A Laguna Hills savings and loan branch canceled Thursday night's use of its facilities by a local chapter of the National Organization for Women after a telephoned bomb threat.
A member of the South Coast chapter of NOW said that after learning of the threat, which was left Wednesday on the chapter's answering machine in a member's home, the Home Federal Savings and Loan branch barred use of its community room for the group's monthly meeting.
Wendy Lozano, legislative coordinator for the chapter, added that she was concerned that the group was being denied its right to free speech over what she believes was a phony threat.
"Frankly, I think the bomb threat was a hoax," Lozano said Thursday. "One of my major concerns is any crackpot individual could call and threaten to bomb any group and thereby deny them facilities for meeting and effectively limit free speech."
Home Federal spokesman Tom McGarry confirmed that the NOW chapter was not allowed to use the community room Thursday night, but he said members would be allowed to resume their meetings next month.
"Even though we're preventing NOW from meeting in that place, and intimidation is working in that respect, we feel the health and safety considerations are paramount for us," McGarry said. "They have to take first place. . . . Whenever a threat of this nature is received, we feel we have to take whatever steps to prevent people from being hurt."
Orange County sheriff's deputies inspected the community room Wednesday and found no explosives, McGarry said. Branch employees were instructed to watch for suspicious people and packages, he said.
Lozano said the threat came from a male caller, who said: "Don't have your meeting. There is a bomb I'm going to plant there. I'm sick of your stupid little meetings. They don't make any sense at all. Remember, this is not a threat, this is a warning."
Lozano said the bomb threat was the first one the local chapter of NOW has ever received.
Usually, she said, such bomb threats are received by family planning clinics. "We usually get obscene telephone calls," she said.
Lozano said she had no explanation for the threat, adding, "I'm absolutely astounded."
Thursday night's speaker, Denise Williamson from the Women's Economic Agenda Project, was to discuss the "feminization of poverty." NOW members were planning to move the meeting to a member's home.